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New doc focuses on Hawaii benefit show by the ‘king of rock and roll’ himself

Published: Sep. 29, 2021 at 4:34 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 29, 2021 at 4:45 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In the early 1960s, Elvis Presley finished his two-year enlistment in the Army and was ready to resume his place as the king of rock and roll.

The first big show on his comeback trail was on Oahu at a benefit concert for the Arizona Memorial.

“Elvis is a kind of a component to the USS Arizona Memorial coming to fruition,” filmmaker Tim Gray said.

Gray just produced a new Elvis documentary through his World War II Foundation that’s called “Elvis and the USS Arizona.”

“If you’re looking for a face, a very public face of getting that memorial completed, Elvis is that face. A lot of people don’t know that part of the Elvis Presley legacy, because it was still early in his career,” he said.

Much of the hour-long film focuses on the sold-out show at Pearl Harbor’s Bloch Arena on March 25,1961.

“We’ve done a lot of different aspects of the Arizona, but this one was one that we thought would bridge some generations, and make people wonder, ‘Elvis? USS Arizona Memorial? How do those two go together?’” Gray said.

The film is filled with photographs of a lei-draped Elvis arriving at the Honolulu airport, the swarm of media at his pre-concert press conference, and the throng of screaming fans who went into a frenzy when he performed on stage.

Gray interviewed some of them.

“It was just so great to experience the views of the people who were at the concert, where they sat in Bloch Arena, what they saw, what they heard,” he said. “One of the women who attended the concert had also witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor as a 5-year-old.”

Gray searched in vain for film footage of the concert, but he did find an audio recording from the show. You can hear Elvis singing and being drowned out by the screams of young girls in the audience.

His Bloch Arena performance raised $60,000 and was the catalyst for getting the rest of the money to build the memorial.

“Everybody who was at that concert understood why he was there, what he was doing, and the impact he was having on the legacy of Pearl Harbor,” Gray said.

CBS sportscaster Jim Nance narrates the film. “Elvis and the USS Arizona” will be shown on PBS stations on Veterans Day.

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